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Like a lot of business owners, Dave DeLancey said the beginning of the pandemic felt like a punch in the face. But now, things are much better at his Bourne restaurant, the Lobster Trap.
"You know, surprisingly, business has been pretty good," DeLancey said. "A lot of locals [are] visiting multiple times a week, and that every little bit helps. So it's been good."
Many Cape Cod businesses have taken a hit during the pandemic, as travel and tourism have declined. And across the country, this week is normally one of the busiest for travel as families gather for Thanksgiving. But with coronavirus cases surging, people have been encouraged to stay home.
If your business depends on tourism, how do you market it in a pandemic?
Businesses and leaders on the Cape are trying a few ways to keep people coming to the region, even in the colder months.
On a recent weekday during lunchtime, DeLancey's restaurant was busy. Servers wearing masks delivered food to full tables. And a few diners sat at the bar where old doors served as dividers between seats.
"Even with the strict guidelines here, we've held our own and stayed fairly busy. DeLancey said.
The restaurant has also benefited from a heated patio, takeout sales and a fish market that's gotten a boost from home cooks.
DeLancey said his September and October sales were up about 10% compared to the same time last year. He still expects his revenue will be down overall this year, but he's glad he gained at little bit of ground.
To do that, Delancey got creative. When restaurants had to stop dine-in service at 9:30 p.m., he decided to open earlier, and he expanded Sunday brunch service to Saturdays too.
"I try to stay positive and just hope for the best," said DeLancey, who plans to stay open through the winter.
Leaders on Cape Cod are also hoping for the best. The Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce ran a campaign this fall dubbed "Second Summer" to encourage people to keep visiting the region. Chamber CEO Wendy Northcross said good weather also helped.
"Because all these outdoor activities — our beaches, our bike paths, our rural nature that we have — you're able to socially distance much easier here," Northcross said. "I think that was a big part of our success for the summer, but it really carried us through into the fall as well."
Northcross said hotel bookings were strong in September — they were down just 8% on weekends compared to the same time last year. But bookings dipped by about 30% in October compared to the previous year, according to Northcross.
"And that's a little disappointing to me," Northcross said.
This year, the Cape focused most of its tourism marketing on people within driving distance.
"We normally advertise nationally and some international, but our advertising this year is all focused on the drive market. And here in the Northeast," said Tony Fucillo, the director of tourism for Provincetown.
Provincetown had a whole series of events planned this fall called "Provincetown 400" to mark the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower. The programming was expected to draw thousands of visitors, but the events had to be canceled because of the pandemic.
Fucillo said he's now focused on the holiday season and looking ahead to winter.
"It's really more about coming here to do your holiday shopping, and if you want to come to get away and be someplace where you can have what we call a 'safe-cation,'" Fucillo said. "You can come here and be safe on your own, do things outdoors, go for a hike and comply with all the necessary protocols in place."
Many shops and art galleries in town remain open right now, according to Fucillo, but this may not last. A lot of Cape businesses usually shut down for the winter — and even more may close this year.
"People aren't going to be sitting outside with freezing cold, having fish and chips. It's not going to work," said Rick Murray, the general manager of the Crown & Anchor in Provincetown.
Murray said he normally keeps his business — which includes a hotel, restaurant and entertainment complex — open through New Year's, but decided to cut his losses this year and close in October.
"I think was the right decision because obviously you see people being pulled back with indoor dining in restaurants and bars and times, and it's only a matter of time 'til they pull back even more between Thanksgiving and Christmas," Murray said.
Murray hopes to reopen the Crown & Anchor next spring. He also owns Muscle Beach Health Club in Provincetown and said he plans to keep that open. At the moment, Murray said he has about 40% of his usual gym memberships.
"So hopefully, you know, gyms will be able to stay open at a certain capacity," said Murray. As to whether the gym business will be enough to keep him afloat through winter, he paused.
"Keeping afloat is an accurate term," he said.
This segment aired on November 24, 2020.
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